German Mills Settlers Park

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The community of German Mills didn’t last very long and there is only one building left standing.  We decided to investigate the area which has now become a park and we found free parking on the end of Leslie Street where it has been closed north of Steeles Avenue.

The county atlas was drawn in 1877 and by that time there was no longer a community named German Mills.  The school was replaced in 1874 with a new building on German Mills Street but it is the last remaining structure from this early settlement.  On the map below Leslie Street is brown while John Street, a given road, is yellow.  German Mills Creek is in blue while our hike is roughly outlined in green.

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Jack in the pulpit grow for up to 100 years from their corm, a type of root similar to a small turnip, although basically inedible.  They spread through seeds that are grown inside their berries.  The berries will turn from green to red when the seeds are ready.  The berries can be harvested and the seeds gently squeezed out.  There will usually be 4 to 6 seeds in each berry.  These can be planted about 1/2 inch deep in the fall.

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German Mills was settled in 1794, the year following the founding of York (Toronto) by a group of German families.  They not only established the first industrial complex in Markham but set an early example of the development of Canada through a multicultural approach.  The settlement didn’t last long because the water supply was inadequate to power their mills.  The picture below shows a sketch of the settlement that can be found on an interpretive plaque along the trail.

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The main paved trail crosses German Mills Creek but we chose to follow the old road allowance for Leslie Street.  German Mills Creek appears to have a few minnows in it but not much else.  The creek runs for about 10 kilometres before emptying into the East Don River in the East Don Parklands.

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Pheasant’s-back Polypore is also known as Dryad’s Saddle and is one of the larger polypore mushrooms found in Ontario.  The caps can reach 12 inches or more with the example seen below coming in at nearly 13 inches.  Although this mushroom is edible it is also rather tough and rubbery.  The outer edges are sometimes pickled or fried and are reported to taste like watermelon rind.  They are common from May until November and they seem to have been quite prolific this year with some trees having had several crops growing on them already.

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On the county atlas above the lots belonging to John Lane and G. C. Harris have been outlined in black.  A large portion of each of these lots was used for gravel extraction between 1940 and 1960.  When the aggregate supply was exhausted the empty pit was converted into the Sabiston Landfill.  From 1960 to 1975 the landfill operated with no records of what types of materials were dumped there and in which sections.  The site continues to produce methane gas that is released into the air and leachate which enters the groundwater.  Today there is a one metre clay cap over the landfill and the area has been designated as the German Mills Meadow and Natural Habitat.

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The mound that represents the former landfill is now monitored for discharges.  A decade ago the Town of Markham was considering installing an aerobic system to help speed up the elimination of methane and leachate from the site.  Local residents protested the plan based on the fact that methane was below the 2.5% level that the Ministry of the Environment sets as safe.  The community succeeded in 2012 in getting the plan halted by arguing

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We found another one of these old canoes which has been planted to help encourage pollinators to do their thing.

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The community of German Mills constructed a one room log school to serve the children of the community.  In 1874 it was decided to replace the school with a larger board and batten structure.  The school was built with separate entrances for the boys and girls as was common in the Victorian Era.  One of the interesting features of the architecture is the way the batten curve into scallops under the boxed cornice of the roof.

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Originally known as school section number 2 there were over thirty different teachers who served here between 1874 and 1962 when it closed.  The original bell still hangs in the bell tower.

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One of the notable teachers from the school was Leonard S Klink who taught here in the 1890’s.  He was responsible for getting the students to plant rows of spruce trees around the sides of the property.  These trees continue to mark the outline of the school yard.  Klink went on to serve as the President of The University of British Columbia from 1919-1944.

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Poison ivy seems to have had a good year and there is plenty of it in German Mills Settlers Park.  The sap contains a substance known as urushiol that usually causes a reaction within 24-48 hours.  Controlling poison ivy by burning it can be very dangerous because inhalation of the smoke can cause the rash to develop on the inside of the lungs.  This can be very painful and possibly fatal.

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Bur Oak is a member of the group of white oaks and is also known as mossy cup oak.  The tree typically reaches 30 metres tall but has been known to be as large as 50 metres.  Like most oak trees they grow slowly but can live for up to 400 years.  The acorns are also large growing up to 5 cm in size.  These trees produce a heavy crop of acorns every few years in a process known as masting.  This bumper crop overwhelms the ability of the local wildlife to consume the acorns and ensures the survival of some seeds.

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German Mills Settlers Park is about to undergo construction work to prevent erosion from damaging the sewer pipe that runs along the length of the creek.  This will change the natural look of the creek for several years.

Google Maps Link: German Mills Settlers Park

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Cooksville Creek

Monday, September 1, 2019

Cooksville Creek in Mississauga has its entire watercourse within the city and in fact it even flows under Square One Shopping Centre.  Over the years it has come under great stress as a result of the changing nature of the watershed development.  With so much of the surrounding areas now paved over and developed the flash flooding of the creek has become a serious problem leading to erosion and property damage.  There are 304 buildings in the lower watershed that are subject to flooding in a 100-year event like Hurricane Hazel.  The city is currently implementing new flood control measures including widening of the creek bed south of Mississauga Valley Boulevard.  We found free parking at the Mississauga Valley Community Centre.  From there we went to explore the construction of the flood controls on the creek.

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The main flow of Cooksville Creek has been diverted into a pipe while they widen and deepen the channel.

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The woodlands on either side of the ravine are home to a large population of squirrels.  There is a constant food supply for them in the cone and nut trees and both black and red squirrels can be seen collecting food for their winter supply.  Having a good food supply for one species means that they will become a good food source for another predator.  We saw this red-tailed hawk sitting in a tree keeping an eye open for breakfast.

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The danger exists in the air from the hawks and on the ground from the coyotes.  The mud in the exposed creek bed has been crossed over many times with coyote tracks.

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The river grapes are starting to ripen along the sides of the trail.  The crop this year looks to be doing very well with lots of fruit for the wild animals to feed on.  Coyote feces that we see along the trail seems to contain a lot of seeds and fruit husks and this isn’t unusual in the summer and fall as they supplement their diet.

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The lower part of this reach was reworked a couple of years ago to increase stability of the sides and create retaining pools to hold the water during flood events.

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The transition point between the section that was completed and that which has not been touched recently.  Although some sections appear to be quite naturalized they have in fact all been subject to more than one repair since the creek was urbanized in the 1940’s.  Of the 14.9 kilometres of creek there are only 1.2 kilometres that are natural while there are a full 35 kilometres of gabion baskets which are failing.  The flood water has washed in behind them in places causing them to collapse into the creek, further diverting the flow and causing more erosion.

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The mallard ducks that were born this spring have now become fully grown.  We were enjoying watching them walk up the little waterfall in the creek.  Over the years the repairs to the stream have reduced most of the natural pools and riffles in the watercourse.  This is one of the places where the water gets oxygenated.

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It’s the last weekend of the Canadian National Exhibition which always features the famous air show.  On the way back home I would be treated to a squadron flying in formation on their way back to the airport.  Just as the airshow marks the end of the CNE and the unofficial end of summer, nature’s air show marks the return of fall.  We saw a gaggle of geese flying in the “V” formation that they use when flying south,  The strongest birds fly in front while the weaker ones follow in their wind currents.

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There are sections that have not been subject to heavy equipment in recent years.  The undergrowth in these areas is first generation of trees.  There are no large oak or maple trees that one would find in a succession forest.  Where the work was completed in the past few years there are newly planted trees that may some day provide a mature forest.  For now the trees are stripped back away from the edge of the creek so that there is no shade over the water.  This leads to higher water temperatures and destroys the habitats.  Cooksville Creek is essentially a dead creek with nothing but a few water skimmers in the upper reaches.  This loss of riparian vegetation is a contributing factor to the decline of the Red-Sided Dace in the past 30 years.  At one time they would have been populous in Cooksville Creek as they were in most GTA waterways.

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At this time you can’t walk the entire course of Cooksville Creek due to the construction work.  We went through anyway and although it was a holiday Monday there was someone on site who ignored us.  Once you get south of the railway tracks there is a large green space that was formerly occupied by several homes.  This is an interesting place where you can find foundations and driveways that are being overtaken by the new growth of vegetation.

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This area was accessed by Given Road which we have previously described in a post that can be found at the link above.

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Cooksville Creek is a real mess today and you wonder how it can ever recover.  However, if you look closely, every ravine has a set of sewer access points that are dated from the 1950’s and up.  These remind us that there has been heavy equipment in the ravines before and since the infrastructure below will need maintenance at some point, there will be again.

Google Maps Link: Cooksville Creek

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West Don Parkland

August 31, 2019

It was a perfect temperature for hiking and also for mosquitoes.  We decided to visit the West Don Parklands to explore the west side of the river and found parking on Maxwell Street where there is access under the power corridor.  We followed the West Don River north until we came to private property and were forced to turn back.  The picture below is a capture from the Toronto Archives of a 1960 aerial photograph of the area we explored.  Our trail has been roughly traced in green while the river is coloured in blue.

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Japanese Beetles were plentiful in the field under the meadow that runs under the hydro corridor.  They are native to the islands of Japan and were first found in the United States in 1916 and in Canada in 1939.  Since then they have spread throughout North America.  The adults eat large amounts of foliage and severely damage over 250 different host plants that they feed on.  Although there are treatment programs designed to reduce the impact of these beetles the picture below gives a good indication of why they continue to thrive.

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At the bottom of the hill the West Don River flows over a small concrete dam and through a dissipator.  It is interesting to see the water that flows over the top of the dam and onto the concrete piers hitting them with considerable force and yet arriving at the bottom in a calm pool having dissipated all of the energy it gained through the drop.  The top of this dam has become clogged with branches and logs that have floated down stream and become caught up in the first row of piers.  Some of it has been there so long that it is silted up and vegetation is growing on the top.

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The valley floor has become overgrown with dog strangling vines and wild cucumber vines.  The wild cucumber is native to Africa but has become naturalized in the New World.  Unlike the dog strangling vine, the wild cucumber does not choke out and kill the vegetation that it grows along with.  The fruit are cultivated and eaten in many places such as Brazil where it is used in a meat and vegetable stew.

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The West Don River was running slow and at a very low level.  Just to the north of here G. Ross Lord Dam and Reservoir are used to collect storm water and release it slowly to prevent flooding in the lower reaches of the river.  Therefore, even after a heavy rainfall this section of the river will see a minimal rise in water levels.

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The chicory appears to have had a very good year and the plants and flowers were plentiful.  Chicory has been used for years as an alternative or additive to coffee.  Chicory is used during times of shortage such as The Depression and Second World War by mixing it up to 60% with 40% coffee.  It gives the coffee a slightly woody flavour.  Tender leaves can also be collected and added directly to salads.

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We came to a sign that said that if you find the log bridge to be impassable you should return and take an alternate side trail.  This naturally prompted us to go and have a look to see if the bridge was impassable.  It wasn’t in very good shape but we did manage to cross carefully.

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Once you clear the bridge there is an extended boardwalk that is not in perfect shape but is safe if you watch for the occasional broken board.

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The trail follows the river and leads to the Forest Valley Outdoor Education Centre which is operated by the Toronto District School Board.  The centre plays host to over 17,000 students each year from 170 different schools who come here to learn about and develop an appreciation for nature.  After you pass the buildings on this site you can follow the trail along the river which leads to a place where a pedestrian bridge once crossed the river.

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Orange Jewelweed has been used in traditional medicine for years as a remedy for poison ivy exposure.  The juice from the flower and leaves can be applied to skin that has been exposed to poison ivy and it has been proven effective at preventing a rash from forming.  The one caution is that some people are known to be allergic to jewelweed and can have an even more severe reaction to this plant than the one they may have had to the poison ivy.

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In the 1877 county atlas the property at the south east corner of modern Dufferin and Finch is shown as belonging to Mrs. E Reggett.  To the west of her property Dufferin street ran north on the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road of which there are still remnants in the valley where Dufferin is shown making its curve.  They can be seen at this link.  Interpretive signage in the park indicates that a grist mill was operated in this location but it wasn’t shown on the county atlas, indicating it was a later construction.

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A little farther along the river we came to the location of the former Reggett grist mill.    The ruins themselves appear to be on a fairly small scale for an actual grist mill.  They are also made out of poured concrete which shows that they were built some time after 1900.  The mill has been gone for a long time but the ruins on the river can be seen in photographs that predate the construction of the outdoor education centre.  This suggests that they were not built as part of an educational display but were the actual Reggett mill ruins.

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Two steel brackets extend out of the concrete to mount the water wheel on.  The recess for the wheel is only a couple of feet in diameter which suggests that this was a very small wheel and was not used to generate significant power.

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The water was directed over the wheel or off to the side by moving a board from one channel to another in the head race.  Today the whole system is crumbling and a tree is starting to grow at the fork in the channel.

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We chose to follow the driveway from the education centre back to the road where we could make our way back to the car.  This is an interesting park and it would be cool to see what lies on the east side of the river.  Perhaps one day…

Google Maps Link: West Don Parklands

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Canada’s Walk Of Fame

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The idea for a walk of fame originated in 1996 as a Toronto Walk of Fame.  It got started in 1998 with the first batch of inductees.  Since then a new group has been added every year and the names are displayed along King Street and Simcoe Street.  Stars honour Canadians in the areas of Arts and Entertainment, Business, Philanthropy, Science and Technology as well as Sports and Athletics.  The plaque below was placed to honour the start of our Walk of Fame.  It is placed in front of the main entrance to the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

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Ed Mirvish has a star right in front of the Royal Alexandria Theater.  It is the only one that is dated and it says July 10, 1996.  This is the date the walk of fame was conceived and a full two years before the first group of inductees were celebrated in 1998.  Edwin Mirvish was also known as “Honest Ed” and one of his accomplishments was the development of Honest Ed’s discount store.  Ed passed away in 2007 but the star that commemorates him is set directly in front of the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

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The Royal Alexandra theatre was built in 1907 and has been owned and operated by Ed Mirvish since 1963.  It s named after a Danish Princess who was the great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II.  It was given the Letters Patent by King Edward VII giving it an official Royal designation.  It s believed to be the only surviving Royal theatre in North America.

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Rush are Canada’s most successful band when it comes to international sales.  They stand third behind The Beatles and Rolling Stones for the most Gold and Platinum album designations.

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Joni Mitchell is considered to be one of the best singer-songwriters to come out of Canada.  Her 1971 album Blue is the highest rated album by a female artist on the Billboard Top Albums of All Time coming in at number 30.

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The Guess Who were inducted in 2001 and their star names five of the forty people who have played in the band since it was formed in 1965.  Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Gary Peterson, Donnie McDougal and Bill Wallace were in the band in 2001, doing a series of reunion shows.  The irony is that the five of them never played together in the band prior to the reunion.  This lineup played before an estimated 450,000 crowd at the Toronto Sars Benefit Concert on July 30, 2003.

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Canada’s Walk of Fame is intended to give us our own version of the one in Hollywood and several of our stars are found in both places.  The stars in the Canadian walk are all damaged around the edges and several have been cracked or broken.  Our stars are subject to the extremes of Canadian weather.  They are salted in the winter and then run over and scraped by the sidewalk plows.  Some of the stars have already been replaced and many more are in need of repairs.  There is talk of finding an alternative method of displaying them, perhaps mounted in a wall along the sidewalk where they would be up and out of the way.

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There are currently 173 stars in the Canadian Walk of Fame with new inductees being added in November.

Google Maps Link: Royal Alexandria Theatre

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Rosetta McClain Gardens 2019

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Rosetta McClain Gardens sits atop the Scarborough Bluffs and although it was once a private garden it is now open to the public for everyone to enjoy.  We have previously visited the gardens but having seen the pictures of hummingbirds on the Friends of Rosetta McClain Gardens Facebook page it seemed like a good idea to stop by again.  Our earlier visit contains more details about the history of the property and so it will be linked at the end of this post rather than repeating all of that here.

Monarch butterfly caterpillars go through five distinct stages of growth, molting after each one.  Each stage is known as an instar and the first stage is translucent.  By the third stage it grows longer tentacles and has the familiar yellow, white and black banding.  This caterpillar below is a third stage instar and in the next two stages it will have white patches on the legs.  The fifth instar will be 2000 times the weight of the first one.  The caterpillar then molts into a chrysalis from which the butterfly will emerge in 8-15 days.  Caterpillars that are seen in late August are the generation that will fly south for the winter.

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Hummingbirds are the smallest family of birds with the bee hummingbird weighing just 2 grams.  They get their name from the noise their wings make during flight while they beat between 12 and 80 times per second.  Due to their high metabolism they consume energy at a substantial rate.  To preserve body mass, every night they enter a state of torpor that is similar to hibernation.  Even in their state of torpor they lose up to 10% of their body mass every night.

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The gardens feature several of the ten species of coneflowers.  The coneflower is formally known as echinacea and has long been used for its immunological effects.  There are studies which show that it can be effective in treating and preventing respiratory infections related to the common cold.  The cone flower is being pollinated by a black swallowtail butterfly.

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Dryad’s Saddle is a large polypore that can grow as large as 12 inches across.  These young ones are just getting started.  They are edible but can be very tough so people will eat the small ones or cut off the outer edges of the cap on larger ones.  This mushroom is also known as Pheasant’s Back.

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The underside of butterfly wings often displays a much different pattern than the top side of the wing.  The Painted Lady below tends to be found in areas where there are thistles as the larvae feed on thistles and burdocks.

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The remains of the McClain house add an interesting atmosphere to the gardens.  Most of the roof is gone as are parts of the walls but what is left makes for some unusual photographs.

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The view from the top of the Scarborough Bluffs out across Lake Ontario often reveals pleasure boats near shore and the smaller shadows on the horizon of the larger ships.

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Rosetta McClain Gardens is one of the best places in the city to photograph birds, flowers and butterflies.  The story of the gardens can be found in our earlier post which is available at this link.

Google Maps Link: Rosetta McClain Gardens

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Kerncliff Park

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Nelson Quarry operated a limestone quarry on Kerns Road in Burlington until 1981.  After it closed it became the site of an ongoing rehabilitation program.  The city of Burlington purchased the old quarry with the intention of creating their first environmental park which eventually opened in 2005.  We decided to check it out and found that there is free parking on both sides of Kerns Road.  The lot on the south side of the road has an interesting concrete artifact near where we parked.  This was likely associated with the quarry across the road.

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The old quarry covers about 40 acres and is now the site of a provincially significant area of natural and scientific interest.  The quarry exposes a transitional layer between the dolomite of the Lockport Formation and the limestone of the Amabel Formation.

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The Ian Reid Side Trail is 1.4 kilometres long and allows people to traverse the wetlands on an elevated boardwalk.  It is named after a long time supporter of the Bruce Trail and a former Bruce Trail Association president.

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The boardwalk has a small observation platform in the middle of the wetlands.  Bullrushes have grown tall enough that it is hard to see the frogs and other wildlife that have made the former quarry home.

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The floor of the old quarry is remarkably flat considering it was created by blasting the limestone off the surface.

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Guard rails have been added along the top of the rock face to protect people who are hiking on the Bruce Trail which runs along the crest.  One of the characteristics of the quarry that made extraction attractive at this site is the relatively thin layer of soil on top of the limestone.  This layer is known as overburden and any place where it is more than two metres thick it becomes impractical to remove it.  There’s always are other places where the limestone is closer to the surface.

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The rock face of the quarry looks as if they just packed up and left.  There is a large amount of broken rock at the base of the cliff as if they blasted a bunch of rock and processed what they could.  Then, rather than working until they ran out of available rock, they just punched out at 5:00 and never came back.

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In the spring and summer the male goldfinch has bright yellow plumage.  The colour is attributed to carotenoids in their diet.  They typically live from 3 to 6 years in the wild but the record has been observed at 11 years.

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From the park you get views into Burlington and out to Lake Ontario in the distance.

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Black walnut trees are known for their dark hardwood that is perfect for making high quality wood furniture.  The nuts can be harvested in late September or early October and should be collected from the tree before they fall.  If you can leave an impression on the shell with your finger the nut is ripe.

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Portions of the trail are accessible for those who use some form of mobility assistance.

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Returning to the car we had another look at the concrete foundations with the tree growing out of the top of them.

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The Bruce Trail runs along the top of the cliff face and we had previously explored there in our post Bruce Trail – Kerns Road to Guelph Line.

Google Maps Link: Kerncliff Park

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Canary Restaurant

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Of all the buildings that used to make up the area of Cherry and Front Streets there are but two remaining.  The building on the south east corner has served under many names over the years while across the street the CN Railway Police Building has kept it company since 1923.

The need for a new school in the rapidly expanding St. Lawrence Ward was addressed when the Toronto Board of Education decided to erect a new brick school building on the corner of Palace (now Front) and Cherry Streets.  One of the considerations for the new school was that it should have separate entrances for boys and girls and they should not be in the same classroom.  The school had room for 80-90 boys and as many girls and the school board had plans to expand if the community continued to grow.  The picture below shows the boys entrance which has been painted green over the years.

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The area around the school started to transform with the arrival of the railways and the industry that they attracted.  Slowly the population dwindled until the school was forced to close in 1887 and the students were transferred to Sackville Street School.  The original school building is the oldest surviving one built by the Toronto School Board and it has some very interesting architecture.

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The south side of the building had the girls entrance and reveals the change in architecture styles between the original two story school and the later third floor addition.

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Robert Irvine bought the building from the school board and converted it into a 40 room hotel.  In 1890 the building was expanded with a new main entrance on the corner of Cherry and Front Streets.

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The hotel operated under several owners who gave it different names.  Originally it was Irvine House but was soon changed to Cherry Street Hotel.  In 1904 it was re-branded as the Eastern Star Hotel but by 1910 this too had failed and was closed.

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The building stood empty from 1910 until 1922 when it was bought and converted into a manufacturing facility.  It was around this time that the third, and largest, expansion was carried out.  The Thomas Davidson Manufacturing Company used the building to produce enamel ware.  The addition was used for warehousing and later rented to additional manufacturing companies including General Steel Ware.  If you look carefully at the wall you can still see “Thos. Davidson Mfg” painted there.

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From the rear, the building looks like a typical early 20th century factory.

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The Toronto Archives picture below is dated 1972 and shows the Canary Restaurant from the angle of the Palace Street School building.  The restaurant operated in the building from 1965 until 2007 when the neighbourhood was consisted of mostly vacant or demolished buildings.  The Canary Restaurant had become a local icon and now provides the name “The Canary District” to the section of the Lower Donlands that used to be home to Maple Leaf Pork processing plants.  The building has had a heritage designation since 1976 and latest proposal includes it in the future Anishnawbe Health Centre development, the city’s first ever indigineous hub.

Front Street at Cherry Street

Creator: Harvey R. Naylor Date: February 16, 1972 Archival Citation: Fonds 1526, File 60, Item 12 Credit: City of Toronto Archives http://www.toronto.ca/archives Copyright was transferred to the City of Toronto by the copyright owner.

From the front you can see the three different architectural styles in the building, each reflecting the period in which it was built as well as the intended purpose of the additions.  The 1859 school on the right, the 1890 hotel in the centre and the 1922 factory on the left.

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On January 30, 1923 the Grand Trunk Railway was officially absorbed into the Canadian National Railway.  Shortly thereafter the CNR built an office building beside the earlier GTR tracks.  The building was later occupied by the CNR Police and is now often referred to as the CNR Police Building.  The CNR used it until 1970 and most recently it has been used to sell the condos that have been built all around it.

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The picture below is from 1932 and shows the extensive railway sheds that ran along Front Street.  The two story office building at the far end is all that remains today.  During the 1990’s this building was used to shoot multiple films for Toronto’s film industry.

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It remains to be seen how these two historic buildings will be integrated into the Canary District but hopefully they will both survive.  If you are in the area you can always visit Corktown Common, a new park just east along Front Street.

Google Maps Link: Cherry and Front Street

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